Books

Librarians Lock Autauga-Prattville Public Library in Protest After Director Fired by Board

During Thursday, March 14, 2024’s Autauga-Prattville Public Library board meeting, library director Andrew Foster, alongside other employees, were fired from their jobs. It was yet another move by the board to not only impose power over the institution, but to also ensure that the library will fail to serve its role as an institution of democracy in the community.

For months, Autauga-Prattville Public Library (AL) has been under fire. Much of it began with the work of one individual who complained about The Pronoun Book in the children’s area of the public library. This escalated to the development of “Clean Up Prattville,” a right-wing, religiously-affiliated group seeking to pull any and all books they deemed “obscene” or “inappropriate” (another chapter, “Clean Up Samuels” nearly closed the Samuels Public Library in Virginia last year).

Then last month, the board of trustees passed a new 53-page policy guide February 8, 2024, without the support of library director Andrew Foster, despite his name being included on the policy. The passage of the policy led to board member Christie Sellers immediately resigning, noting that the board was meeting in secret to create this policy.

That was the fifth board member to leave in under a year. By pushing out more and more board members, the board has been able to build itself into a partisan body.

Among the new policies in the recent guide, which was not developed nor approved by the director are that:

  • Children under the age of 18 shall receive library cards that are especially designated for minors. These cards will not permit the checkout of material with content containing, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance. Age-appropriate materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
  • The library shall not purchase or otherwise acquire any material advertised for consumers ages 17 and under which contain content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance. Age-appropriate materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
  • Library staff shall affix a red warning label prominently on the binding of any book or other material in the library’s collection containing content including, but not limited to, obscenity, sexual conduct, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender discordance and advertised for consumers 18 and older. Materials concerning biology, human anatomy, or religion are exempt from this rule.
  • The Library Board of Trustees reserves the right to exercise discretion over all library material, including but not limited to books, movies, artwork, displays, and programming.
  • Removes the requirement that patrons read an entire work before lodging a formal challenge.

One of the key issues of the board is material with LGBTQ+ content, as should be clear. But it was due to the director’s refusal to remove over 113 titles with such content from the young adult section that the board elected to fire him at the March 14 meeting.

In response to the firing, library staff members walked out and locked up the library in solidarity with their director.

In a video captured by reporter Monae Stevens and shared on Twitter, a staff member stands at the door of the library. Their voice waivers as they state that “Libraries are the last free safe place for everybody in the community, no matter who you are or what you believe in and they are being taken away. It is our job as citizens to stand for our right to freedom of information.”

They are met with applause.

The board responded by firing four staff members of the library. It is unclear whether or not the board even has the authority to fire staff members, given that it is generally the job of the director.

Thursday’s meeting was announced on Tuesday via the library’s Facebook page. “The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the good name and character of an individual,” the post reads, adding that “Public comments will not be taken at this meeting.”

When the Alabama Political Reporter reached out to board president Ray Boles about the meeting, he responded that the site was “fake news” and offered no details.

At the meeting, the board went into a closed session. When they reemerged, they shared that they had a statement which would be released to media about their decision to fire Foster.

The statement was not read aloud at the meeting, and the board took no questions.

This is a developing story. None of it is surprising, given what has been going on, but it is deeply troubling and a reminder of how much is at stake right now when it comes to democracy. These decisions are not about the books on shelf. They are about the power of one political faction to eradicate entire swaths of people under the name of “cleaning up” the library. Given how Alabama’s governor is eager to further target libraries, to include giving herself significant power in determining what library boards look like, this story will likely be far from an isolated incident.

The library workers here, however, need to be commended. Not only did they stand up for the rights of every citizen to whom the library belongs, but they did so knowing their own livelihoods are on the line.

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